SPRING HILL — Almost 17 years after it began as a small Bible study group, meeting in homes in Spring Hill, the congregation of Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church has grown to 130 members.
Last fall, they held their first service in the sanctuary of the long-awaited church building constructed on the eight acres they purchased in 2003, the year the church was incorporated and constituted.
This month, church members hosted their first major social event — a couples Valentine’s Day celebration — in their fellowship hall.
“It was awesome,” said the Rev. LaVaughn McNary, who has been the church’s teacher and pastor since 2002. “For so many years, we were having to go to bigger churches and use their fellowship halls to have events, like our women’s tea or church anniversaries. Now to be able to have it in our own place, it just makes it that much sweeter.”
According to a history of the church submitted by its publicity chair, Recie Peterson, the membership of the Southern Baptist church still includes three of its nine founding members — Fred and Judy Woodson and Gail Hawkins.
“Antioch was coined a ‘nomad church’ by a local news reporter as they had no permanent abode at the time,” Peterson wrote of the church’s early days.
Purchasing land at their present location on Santoro Street was at the urging of McNary. The acquisition was made possible with the help of monetary gifts from other churches, as well as from “family and friends” of the church, he said.
But it wasn’t all a smooth ride. One early obstacle was having the agricultural zoning for the property changed to allow them to build the church.
“We had to go before the planning board with a ton of paperwork, and it was voted down,” the pastor said, “so we had to go before the Board of County Commissioners to appeal the decision. It required hiring a traffic engineer that did a noise survey and a traffic survey, and a lawyer to have all the legal stuff in place.”
The County Commission meeting that church members attended to effect the change was a long one, and the church’s appeal was at the end of the docket.
“Everybody was excited, but very apprehensive,” McNary said. “When it came to a vote, two ‘no’ and two ‘yes,’ and the chairperson said ‘pass.’ She broke the tie. So that was an exciting day for us.”
It was all part of God’s plan, McNary said, because while they were going through the process of having the zoning changed, they were able to raise the down payment for the property.
“The terms were $30,000 down and five years to pay $126,000,” McNary said. “We paid it off in 3 and a half years (in 2007). The Lord just made it so.”
Through the years, the church continued to meet in homes and then rented a community clubhouse and an office in a medical strip. That allowed the church to “keep our debts down and put money in the bank,” the pastor said.
“We began to pray fervently and seek God’s face for a construction loan,” Peterson wrote. “On Dec. 29, 2016, the construction loan was approved.”
Construction of the multi-purpose building began in 2018, and by October the church received its certificate of occupancy. In November, members invited the community to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication service.
“There was a lot of speculation about whether we could do it, because we don’t have a lot of members,” McNary said. “I never felt that way. I just felt the presence of the Lord. We were able to do what people didn’t think we’d be able to do.”
The new sanctuary accommodates about 225 people. There are three classrooms that can be made into six with partitions and a warming kitchen.
“We are so looking forward to using the building,” McNary said. “We’ll be hosting a revival leading into a joint-church community Good Friday service, as well as an upcoming men’s conference, a women’s tea and vacation Bible school.”
Peterson said she is excited that they have a place to call home.
“We are no longer a nomad church,” she said. “Our theme for the church dedication was Psalm 118:23, ‘This is the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.’ We relied on God making a way for us, and he did.”
To go: Services at Antioch Fellowship Baptist Church, 9429 Santoro St., are at 10:45 a.m. Sundays, with Sunday school at 9:30. Bible study is at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. Visit antiochfbc.org/ or leave voice mail at (352) 684-8989.